Original airdate: October 2, 2016
The premise: Discovering the wonders of VR technology, Mr. Burns hires Marge and the kids to serve as his simulated family. With an empty house, Homer forms a friendship with a like-minded woman from the neighborhood.
The reaction: Last episode I kept wondering why Burns was being so accepting of the Simpsons, now I find myself wondering the opposite. Burns auditions people to be his virtual reality family, and of course chooses the Simpsons. But he only needs Marge and the kids, since he will be the patriarch, of course. And then we go right to it, suiting them up in mo-cap suits to shoot their scenes. No discussion as to what he’s paying them, why Marge would agree to this, nothing. This gets even more ridiculous when Burns tells them he has an option to keep them with him for ten years. Cut to his guest house where Marge is talking to Homer on the phone, where she tells him how he can keep himself busy by cleaning the house. Are they indentured servants now? Can they never leave the house? Why did Marge not read over the contract we didn’t see them sign? And again, why on Earth would she agree to any of this? One of the VR scenes features Burns’ excitement to bring Marge to the bedroom for his birthday present, where we see her disrobe and him lustfully glaring at her virtual nudity. What in the ever loving fuck is this? This show has been so woefully broken for so long, but we’re at the point where they don’t even bother with set-ups anymore. Apparently those details don’t matter, because seemingly, it’s just the excuse to get Homer alone in the house and to meet Julia, the woman who lives behind their house, and the two to form a friendship. Over half of the dialogue in their scenes is Homer wondering if it’s okay to have a female friend, and him repeatedly saying they’re just friends over and over to gawking on-lookers, because apparently in the year 2016, apparently it’s a radically subversive concept that a man and a woman can be good friends. Did Mike Pence write this episode? With the Burns plot going nowhere fast, this Homer story becomes our sole focus. When Marge and the kids return home after an indeterminate amount of time (it had to be at least a couple of weeks), the only thing they care about is who this woman is on the phone with Homer. Marge goes ballistic, but then Julia (just now being given a name at the end) shows up to exposit Homer out of trouble (“I just wanted to introduce myself and tell you you’ve got a great husband.”) And that’s it! What a fucking mess.
Three items of note:
– As much as I complain again and again on this show’s crippling reliance on overexplaining its jokes, there are still bits that make me shake my head exasperatedly. This is a perfect example: Smithers is explaining that the VR headset has limited software since it’s so new (“At the moment, it’s really just lots of pornography, a roller coaster, pornography, pornography…”) Already this joke is pretty old hat. Wow, people using the Internet to jerk off? What fresh satire! So Smithers pulls up a fantasy setting where two dragons fly in, seemingly to duke it out, but then, the pink one addresses camera (“Dragon porn!”) and the two start making out. Wouldn’t it have been “funnier” if they had built it up like they were going to fight, and then you get the surprise of them kissing? They ruined their own set-up by prefacing it! And it that weren’t enough, after ten seconds of watching dragons mack on each other, Smithers cuts in, “Sorry, sir, this one is also pornography.” Why did they need to say it again? This entire thirty second bit is just them explaining what the joke is three separate times.
– As with last episode, Mr. Burns doesn’t really go through any kind of story at all. His therapist urges him he needs a family to have a fulfilling life, which he scoffs at. Later, when he gets enamored by VR, Smithers repeats this, and they come up with the idea of a virtual family. Through all their scenes, Burns doesn’t seem all that thrilled with actually having family members who care; he’s indifferent at best. Then, toward the end, he just decides he’s sick of it and fires the Simpsons. So, he never really cared about family, had one, then got rid of them. That’s not a story. He wanted to make up for his humiliation at the Bowl, suffer the same humiliation again, then just decides he’s over it. That’s not a story either.
– The ending is so artificially manufactured, it’s truly tremendous. There’s no emotional build-up for a Homer-Marge story throughout the entire show. The family is gone from the house for weeks or months without any real discussion about them missing each other, or how often they stay in contact, or anything. So when Marge and the kids return home to Homer, they both seem pretty disaffected toward each other. Marge instantly locks on to the Julia scenario, and goes from zero to sixty immediately. She hustles the kids from the room, knocks over Homer’s TV tray, and angrily storms him around the house with him repeatedly backing up in terror (“Homer Simpson! After all I’ve put up with for all these years, if I’m not your best friend then what is this marriage about?!”) Stuff getting knocked over, Homer tripping over furniture and getting genuinely frightened at his wife… this is the point where the cops would get called. And this is coming from Marge! After that, Julia just happens to walk in and gives that exposition line I cited earlier, and the situation is quickly diffused. None of these characters have felt like actual characters for years now, and shit like this is the reason. Characters will just start and stop having emotions on a dime; whatever plot contrivance is needed, they’ll just perform, like soulless marionettes.
One good line/moment: Nothing. I hated this one too. The season just started and these first two episodes honestly feel like the worst I’ve ever seen.